Are You High Risk?
Women, like men, are more at risk of heart disease as they get older.
With age, the levels of both total cholesterol and 'bad' LDL cholesterol rise, and it is difficult to tease out the effects of the menopause from the effects of simply getting older.
A recent study on menopause and heart disease carried out in Norway of 20,000 women over a 29-year period found that women who experienced an early menopause (before the age of 44) were over twice as likely to develop a fatal heart condition as those who had their menopause after the age of 53.
This seems to add weight to the theory that before the menopause oestrogen has a significant protective effect against furred arteries. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
The question of whether to take hormone replacement therapy, HRT (ERT in the US), is complicated for all women.
Some studies show that the risk of heart disease is almost halved if you take HRT; others suggest that the risk of thrombosis and stroke are increased.
The ingredient in HRT which is most beneficial for women's hearts is oestrogen.
The type of HRT known as 'unopposed' contains oestrogen only, but women who haven't had a hysterectomy are prescribed a type of HRT called 'opposed', which contains progestogens, synthetic forms of another female sex hormone, progesterone.
This protects the uterus against cancer of the womb lining - a risk with unopposed HRT - but it is not yet entirely clear what the effects of progestogens are on the heart.
Hormone Replacement Benefits
The benefits of taking HRT as a protection against heart disease also have to be weighed against the risk of developing breast cancer, which rises as women get older.
Studies have shown that taking HRT over time does boost the risk of breast cancer.
Of course, this has to be balanced against its beneficial effects on the heart, especially when you consider the fact that heart disease kills more women than breast cancer.